Graham Kelly: Palios shows imagination by bringing in Brooking

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The Independent Football

It's not often you can shrug off a severe attack by the BBC and moans by the England coach and still maintain with confidence that you have had a good week.

On the day that the England captain, David Beckham, turned up resplendently suited with his wife, Victoria, to receive his OBE from Her Majesty, the Football Association's chief executive, Mark Palios, announced the major coup of Trevor Brooking's appointment as director of football development. It is a bold and imaginative move to bring in a former international player with 47 England caps to his name and an unblemished record for sportsmanship, one who has shown he was not afraid to get his hands dirty as caretaker manager, though one might quibble at his acquiescence as a non-executive director of West Ham United in the manner of Alan Pardew's appointment.

Only the previous evening, Palios had backed out of appearing on The Money Programme to discuss whether he and the FA were capable of delivering on their promises.

That was a pity on at least two counts. First, it left more time for some less than original criticisms of the problems faced by York City and their fans over their ground, which were covered by David Conn in these pages long ago, and the FA's price-fixing of England replica kit sold on the internet, which again is hardly fresh.

Second, while the programme touched on the Wembley Stadium saga interestingly, particularly its potentially debilitating cost to the FA, it was novel indeed to find the deposed chairman of the project, the Chelsea chairman, Ken Bates, defending the governing body for once in the absence of any other spokesmen. One critic claimed it was costing over £8,000 per seat, whereas the norm was in the region of £1,000. Bates' retort to the criticism of his choice of contractor was bleeped out, but seemed to be along the lines of round objects.

Balls Trevor Brooking could almost make talk during his long, distinguished one-club career - with both feet. He was a perfectly balanced midfielder, able to glide past opponents virtually at will. As a teenager he loved playing rather than watching the game, an affinity he carried with him after his professional days were over deep into the Sunday leagues of Essex.

He may have regretted his keenness once. The media boys were taking on their Georgian colleagues in Tbilisi on the occasion of England's World Cup qualifying match in 1996. After about the 10th time Brooking had been dumped on the deck with no action taken by a rather partisan referee, he stood up gingerly and remonstrated with the offender. Suddenly, out of nowhere, came another bearded defender and punched him on the brow causing a cut that required four stitches. "For 20 years I've had Billy Bonds to protect me," he said, ruefully, "now, when I really need him, all I've got is Ray Wilkins."

Brooking had, in fact, been suggested as technical director of the FA by Glenn Hoddle earlier that year. It was a new position that was being created at the time, as Brooking's role has been tailor-made for him now. He would have needed to address the fact that there were many separate armies in the English game: there was no agreed agenda on how to produce top-class young players. Moreover, the FA coaching department was distrusted by the professional game. Brooking, as a full badge coach from some years earlier, was one of many who believed priorities had become misplaced.

But after a relatively successful spell by Terry Venables as the England coach - he also expressed some interest in the technical director's position - I concluded that the failings were not solely on one side and that the job would best be done by someone who would bring the managers onside, bring the teachers aboard, and generally blaze a trail for higher standards all round. In short, we were looking for an educator like Gérard Houllier, who had written the blueprint for French success in two successive major championships.

We ultimately got closest to that by appointing Howard Wilkinson, a former teacher and the chairman of the League Managers' Association who had won the championship with Leeds, because the job needed someone with clout to negotiate with the Premier League power barons like Bates and Doug Ellis on issues like opening their academy doors to monitors and funding the Nationwide League clubs' centres of excellence.

Wilkinson accomplished that work admirably and laid the foundations for the national football centre. Now that Palios has gone a step further with the recruitment of Brooking and the journalist Colin Gibson as director of communications, we should have no worries about him not punching his weight and being seen to do so, whatever the uncertainties of Sven Goran Eriksson's contract negotiations.